16 posts categorized "writing"


International Trade

It came in the mail on Monday, a battered blue-striped box postmarked from Daly City, CA. My father, a man who needs other people to wrap his Christmas present for him, had swaddled every exposed inch with packing tape.

When I rip it open a big green can rolls onto the kitchen table. Big letters on the side proclaim it as “Marca El Rey: authentic chorizo de bilbao”.

It’s a lie. They have never heard of this chorizo in Bilbao, or anywhere else in Spain. It’s made in the USA. But in the Philippines, this can is worth its weight in gold.

It’s packaged in Illinois but you can’t find it anywhere except in the Philippines or in a handful of Asian groceries in San Francisco. In a marvel of modern economics, it is produced in America, exported to the Philippines and smuggled back into the US by desperate balikbayans hoping that the customs inspectors will somehow miss the big green cans secreted in their luggage.

I was scarred for life several years ago by having my one precious can confiscated by dour customs inspectors in Detroit. If I’d had a can opener I would have devoured it on the spot. Bitter, I imagine the customs officers gathered around a grill in some back room, feasting on their ill-gotten chorizo in the middle of the night.

Filipinos are notorious for bringing anything and everything edible in their luggage. Every time I cross the border I am invariably asked, knowingly, whether I have any tuyo (dried fish) with me today? Or perhaps a lechon (roast pig)? Any bagoong (fermented shrimp paste)?

DVDs go one way across the Pacific; dried fish and bagoong go the other. My mom wants moisturizer and those little devices for cutting pills in half: so useful! She gave one to all the old grandmothers and years later they still talk about. My cousins splurge on DVDs and books that arrive in a tidal wave of mail at my doorstep in the week before I go home for Christmas. Like clockwork, in mid-December I get the sheepish call, asking if I wouldn’t mind bringing home “a few things”. I say yes, of course, knowing that my consent is not actually required. What are relatives for, if not for carrying things back from abroad? My suitcase is so full of other people’s stuff that I’ll be lucky to fit my own clothes.

I’ve brought home cans of cranberry sauce and boxes of twinkies and velcro ties for bundling cables. Labelling machines and refills for organizers, plates, boots, jackets, band-aids, Yardley’s English lavender powder, and boxes of roach poison.

When I come back I’m laden with soup and sinigang mix, dried mangoes and tsokolate. Golf-ball sized pellets of native chocolate, hard as little cannonballs, invariably land me in the agricultural inspection line. They are so dense, I suppose, that they look like ammunition in the scanning machine. The overhead bins are full of other travellers’ provisions: tubs of ice cream packed in dry ice, bakery boxes of mamon and ensaymada.

And so it goes, the galleon trade in the 21st century. For a few months I’ll live high on the food of my childhood and then it’s back to western grocery stores and the occassional trip to Chinatown, until it comes time to do it all again.


Morning Commute

Cops are at the station this morning, bright green vests and wide stances poking at backpacks and rummaging through everybody's lunch.



A fly has squeezed through the screen into my apartment, lured by the scent of growing flowers and shelter from the wind; I can hear it knocking against the glass unable to get out.


Wearing her colors, I find myself craving bright hues that I have never worn. Perhaps I am not as earth-toned as I had always believed myself to be.


Today I am becoming my grandmother.
I'll get a tube of lipstick in that old-lady pink
and put her on like a skin.


Bad Books

Bad books, half remembered,
that surface like dark whales
and wallow in the back of my mind.

There's the one about the blacksmith's daughter,
and a train crash,
and the sort of brooding hero
that would drive the heroine to be an axe murderer
if they met in real life.

And the one about the woman who is abducted by aliens and it turns
into "Anna and the King of Siam" --in space, without the singing and dancing.

And the one about the roman girl, and everyone running around with
torches and the looming shadow of barbarians at the edges of the empire.

God knows what the title was
or who was the author
But the heroine had a pink dress
And there was a cat
And it turned out the sister did it

They were bad the first time I read them, on some quiet afternoon in the
high school library, in corner so rarely visited that I once found
a yellow index card that still had my mother's name on it.

The details have been forgotten --and better so.
If only the entire episode could have been erased
and the brain space reclaimed for better things.
But they've left a dirty smudge and an echo in my mind and that feeling of

And the frustration of lying awake in the middle of the night
wondering, "What was that book again...?"

I tracked one down once
and purchased a second-hand copy
knowing even as I paid that it wasn't worth the postage.

It was a horrible book; time had not improved it.
But it's on my bookcase still.
Like a scary clown doll,
I can't bear to throw it away in case it comes back to haunt me again.



I'm sorry
I've been out of touch
I was busy turning into someone else.


I Want To Send Myself Roses

I want to send myself roses
paid for today and sent
in the future
So that years and years from now
when I am an old woman with 10 cats
I will wake up to find a dozen red roses on
my doorstep and think
that I have
a secret


Kite Fighting

They meet in the blue far above the canal, diamond shapes with long tails dangling down behind the wall and out of sight. They're not fancy with streamers or bright colors. Not frivolous like the kite I bought in a toy store once, shaped like a parrot with a wing so fine a breath would tear it. These are street kites, tough and businesslike, made of old plastic bags and sticks of bamboo, their strings roughened with ground glass. They swoop like fighter jets against the blue; hungry for blood they circle and dance, avoiding entanglement until the last fateful contact, the briefest kiss of string against string. The winner is reeled back down to earth; the loser drifts up towards heaven.


Ominous Death Threat

I should be lucky enough to ever find one on my doorstep, to know that I've inspired someone to go to such trouble, to take such an interest in the termination of my life.

Will it be a black envelope, bound with a ribbon red as blood and a wilted white rose?

Or the ubiquitous sheet of bond paper, with mismatched letters torn from magazines and the obligatory misspellings?

I hear that in Mexico they go to the church and buy a mass card with your name on it --it's their tasteful way of telling you that somewhere, some unwitting congregation is praying for your soon-to-be-immortal soul.

If I ever receive a death threat it will be probably be for something depressingly mundane, like an insurance payout.

How awful.

Rather like realizing that the reunion is only a month away and you have nothing interesting to report, while all your classmates have won the Nobel prize, popped out ten kids and climbed Mt. Everest on the side.

I must save myself from such an ignominous fate; I had better run out and commit some really impressive sins.